Ice cream has been a sturdy companion to many homes around the world for hundreds of years. It’s both a treat that delivers the basics of sweetness and creaminess, but it’s also an excellent medium for immeasurable experimentation and ice cream innovation.

The past few years have rocked this whole “life” game in many factors, including ice cream consumption. Yes, the consumer's relationship with frozen treats has changed. It’s not worse or better. It’s simply evolved as any relationship does.

So what needs are ice creams fulfilling in 2021, and how can brands adapt to meet consumers on their level?

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Top Ice Cream Flavors in 2021

When considering the top ice cream flavors in 2021, the answers may not surprise you. Chocolate (one of the first ice cream flavors ever, dating back to Naples, Italy, in 1692) and vanilla are still the most coveted flavors, with chocolate holding a slight lead over its lighter counterpart. They’re both simple flavors that have the potential to be incorporated as a base in countless desserts.

They’re the reigning champions, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no insight gained from the rating of other flavors. It’s worth noting that strawberry was rated number eight in 2019 but has risen to fourth place this year. On the flip side, chocolate chip cookie dough was the fifth most popular flavor two years ago, and it has since dropped to number eleven in the public favor.

But the days of relying solely on dairy-based ice cream are long gone. Modern consumer desires have grown, and it’s inspired brands across the country to branch out to new, unexpected ingredients.

Frozen Desserts and Ice Cream Innovation

Vegan ice cream may not have the history of its milk-based cousin, but it’s far from a new fad. You can trace it back to 1918 when Japan pioneered the creation of ice cream made from soy. There’s even evidence of it as far back as 1899 when the Guide For Nut Cookery posed a recipe involving making ice cream with an almond or peanut base.

Over a hundred years later, ice cream concepts like dairy-free ingredients are not only commonplace but celebrated as an alternative for vegans and the lactose intolerant. The trends are there to be observed, and their statistics may surprise you.

Vegan vanilla and vegan chocolate are still the most popular flavors, but the former holds a strong lead. And a close runner-up is vanilla bean, which easily beats other contenders like strawberry, mint, chocolate, and fudge. This will likely shift in the future as we learn how to replicate classic flavors that complement these dairy alternatives.

[RELATED] Infographic: Symrise North America's Ice Cream Flavor Madness 2020 

Ice Cream Concepts During Pandemic

A lot changed since the COVID-19 pandemic, including food habits and cuisine trends in the United States. With the near-constant level of stress present this past year, it’s understandable that people would be looking for any small way they could relax. Consumers are also looking to be more sustainable in the way they shop and like brands that can operate around the limits of social distancing.

But what else are people looking for in a post-COVID frozen dessert?

Good and Good For You

Plant-based ice cream ingredients have become incredibly popular during the pandemic. With most staying home and limiting our access to many forms of physical outlets, consumers are in the market for desserts that will taste good and make them feel good.

Some have tried using cacao in place of more processed chocolates. Others have tried less conventional ingredients like lemongrass or turmeric, which has seen a 12% increase in menus across the United States. Many brands are even adding probiotics into their ice cream brands to create a treat that actually improves gut health as you enjoy it.

Incorporating Indulgence

Consumers, now more than ever, want something that will allow them to feel good. And diet culture has taken a backseat in the name of enabling occasional indulgences to their lifestyle. It’s about moderation, not restriction.

And for those moments where they take a break to enjoy a treat, more and more consumers are looking for something special to mark the occasion. That’s why brands like Haagen-Dazs have started making spirit-infused ice cream for a luxurious experience without unreasonable consequences.

Overall, the biggest ice cream concept has been improved. Consumers have spent over a year locked in their own homes. They want more—more experience and better health—and they’re looking for an ice cream brand that promotes the same things.

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